Frequently Asked Questions

Choosing to become a living donor is a big decision, and you may have some questions. The UI Health Liver Transplant Team is here to help guide you through this process. Below is a list of the most frequently asked questions regarding living donor surgery:

Q: Can any liver transplant patient receive a liver from a living donor?

Not every patient on the liver transplant waiting list is a candidate to receive a liver from a living donor. As liver disease progresses, and the recipient becomes more ill, it becomes more likely that he/she will require a whole liver for transplant. A whole liver can only come from a deceased donor. If a recipient qualifies for a living donor liver transplant, the transplant team will discuss this option with the recipient and provide information appropriately.

Q: Is the donor responsible for their own transplant-related costs?

The costs of the donor’s evaluation and donor surgery are covered by the recipient’ s insurance company. Some costs, however, are not covered. They include and are not limited to:

  • Loss of salary due to time off from work
  • Hotel and transportation costs
  • Personal expenses

Donors should be familiar with their employer’s sick leave policy, since recovery time is approximately six to eight weeks, and the donor will be out of work during that time. If you have financial concerns, you should discuss these issues with our Transplant Team prior to donation. It is the responsibility of the potential donor to make the Transplant Program aware of any financial concerns prior to the surgery date.

Q: What will happen after donation?

The donor operation usually takes 4–6 hours in the operating room. Since two teams of surgeons for the donor and recipient are utilized, with two surgical procedures at the same time side-by-side, sometimes the operating time may take longer than estimated.

After donation, the donor's hospital stay is five to seven days, provided the recovery process is straightforward with no complication.

After returning home, the donor will be seen by the transplant surgeon on a regular basis for the first two months to make sure there are no complications and recovery is going well. For the first year, the Transplant Team will closely follow up with the donor.

Q: How much pain can I expect after this surgery?

It is common and expected for donors to experience some mild pain and discomfort after the surgery, which may persist for some weeks. Pain medications will be made available to you during your hospitalization to keep you as comfortable as possible. Pain medication may not always take away the pain, but you should feel comfortable. It is important to let your doctors and nurses know if your pain is not well-controlled or is worsening. When you return home, you will be given a prescription for pain medication; this medication is for the initial recovery phase and should not be used long term.

How will donation affect my personal life?

Because of the unique ability for the liver to regenerate (grow back), it will return to its original size in approximately 12 weeks. It is advised that you avoid alcoholic beverages for the first several months up to a year following liver donation surgery. After recovery — typically six to eight week — you can return to your normal physical activity levels; you can work, drive, exercise, and participate in sports, as usual. You can continue all types of occupations, including military duty. There is no evidence to suggest that female donors suffer any effect on their ability to become pregnant or bear children.

Q: What if I change my mind about donating?

At any point during the evaluation process and even right before the surgery, you have the option to change your mind. Our Transplant Team will support whatever decision you make at any point in time. Your decision will be kept confidential and will not be shared with your intended recipient, or anyone else. A potential donor should never feel pressure to donate from anybody.

Q: What should I do if I experience any complications or symptoms after surgery and returning home? 

At times, surgical complications may occur, either soon after surgery or after you return home. Before you leave the hospital, we will review symptoms to watch for.
Call our transplant office right away if you have:

  • New/worsening abdominal pain
  • Redness/swelling around your incision, or cloudy discharge coming from your incision
  • Yellow eyes or skin
  • Fever higher than 101°F (38.3°C)
  • A cough or you feel short of breath
  • New pain, or strong pain that your pain medicines do not ease

Call our transplant office at 312.996.6771. If you are unable to reach our office, go to the nearest Emergency Department immediately.